Federal Judge in Arkansas Dismisses Stranded Passenger Lawsuit

April 6, 2009

A federal judge in Fayetteville, Ark., has dismissed a lawsuit by an Arkansas woman that claimed she was illegally imprisoned on an American Airlines airplane for 91/2 hours in 2006.

In an 18-page ruling, U.S. District Judge Robert T. Dawson said he was sympathetic of the plight that Catherine Ray of Fayetteville went through on Dec. 29, 2006. However, the judge said that American Airlines had no duty to provide Ray “with a stress-free flight environment” and their conduct did not amount to imprisoning her.

American Airlines “could and should have handled this situation differently,” Dawson wrote in the opinion released April 2.

Ray was on a flight diverted from Dallas-Fort Worth Airport to Austin, Texas. After landing, passengers sat in the planes, unable to leave despite overflowing toilets and little food or water.

Passengers were deprived of medication and suffered hunger, thirst, anxiety, physical illness, emotional distress and monetary loss, according to her lawsuit.

“The toilets became full and would not flush, and the stench of human excrement and body odor filled the plane,” Ray’s suit alleged.

Ray and Kate Hanni, of Napa, Calif., each sued in their respective states. Their lawsuits asked for unspecified damages as well as legal expenses.

American Airlines spokesman Andrea Huguely said the airline changed many of its practices because of what occurred that day.

“While the weather-related events of Dec. 29, 2006, cited in the lawsuit were extremely rare – virtually unprecedented – in the aftermath of that day, American Airlines quickly initiated multiple pro-active steps to avoid future recurrences of frustrating customer experiences such as those some of our passengers experienced that day,” Huguely wrote in an e-mail to the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. “We have always viewed the events of December 29, 2006, as issues of customer service and customer satisfaction, not about any legal liability.”

American Airlines is based in Fort Worth, Texas.

Information from: Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, www.arkansasonline.com

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